Why Google plans to stop supporting your Chromebook after five years
Google’s End of Life Policy sets a schedule for retiring older Chromebooks, writes Jared Newman
One of the best things about Chromebooks is that they are built to last. Thanks to automatic security and feature updates from Google, along with a lightweight browser-based operating system, longtime users may find that their laptops run as well, if not better, than they did on day one.
But despite Chromebooks’ theoretical longevity, it’s possible for Google to cut their lives short. Per the company’s End of Life policy, Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices are entitled to five years of feature and security updates only. After this, the firm doesn’t guarantee that these systems will run safely or properly.
Obsolescence seems nigh for the first wave of browser-based laptops, including Samsung’s Series 5 and Acer’s AC700, which arrived in 2011. Still, the policy isn’t as cut and dry as Google’s end of life chart makes it seem (see tinyurl.com/z2b9xr2). The firm has left itself some room to keep updating Chromebooks in the future, and is continuing to update those that have officially lost support.
End of Life policy
According to Google, each Chromebook will receive updates for at least five years after the product’s original release date (not to be confused with the time of purchase). Every six weeks during that time, the firm provides automatic security and feature updates.
Beyond that time, though, things get murky. Right now, three Chromebooks – Samsung’s Series 5, Acer’s AC700 and Google’s CR-48 prototype from 2010 – have received an ‘official’ end-of-life date. However, only devices with official end-of-life dates are liable to stop receiving updates.
Not that it matters at the moment. A Google spokesperson told our sister title PCWorld that this date is not a firm cutoff, and that all Chrome OS devices are continuing to receive updates.
It’s unclear when this will change, but users should get a notification on their Chromebooks once the updates stop. At that point, devices may continue to function, but they could become less reliable over time. More importantly, they won’t receive any more security updates, potentially leaving them vulnerable to unpatched exploits.
According to the spokesperson, Google recommends dumping your old Chromebook and getting a new one at that point.
There is, however, one more element to this story. Given that security is, according to Google, “one of the key tenets of Chrome OS,” the firm said it’s “working with our partners to update our policies so that we’re able to extend security patches and updates beyond a device’s EOL date.”
The company isn’t making any guarantees at this point, but it sounds like it wants to extend updates – at least on the security side – beyond five years. It also sounds like device makers such as Acer and Samsung would be partially responsible for making that happen.
Why this matters
Whether you’re upset or satisfied with Google’s Chromebook support policy depends on your point of view.
Compared to a typical PC, Chromebooks are designed to be more secure, thanks to verified boot mechanisms, built-in data encryption and ‘sandboxing’ that contains threats within apps and web pages. Even in an unpatched state, Chromebooks are somewhat safe. (They’re arguably a lot safer than Android devices, which routinely go unpatched by device makers and are much bigger targets for malware overall.)
Still, Chrome OS exploits do happen, and Google itself has noted that the “most effective way to protect against malware is to make sure all software is up to date and has the latest security fixes.” For people with older hardware, those updates may not be guaranteed.
Five years may seem like a long time, but Microsoft has typically offered Windows security updates for at least 10 years after an operating system’s release. That’s a big deal given that more than 600 million PCs in use today are more than five years old. For enterprises and schools with slow device replacement cycles, it’s essential.
Ultimately, what really matters is that users (and IT managers) can make informed decisions, and that’s the biggest issue here. Google didn’t publish an end-of-life policy for Chromebooks until late 2013, long after it wooed users with the promise of automatic updates. And right now, the company’s policy page remains ambiguous, so users can’t be sure what to expect.
It’s worth noting that ‘end of life’ doesn’t have to mean the end of useful hardware. If you have the know-how, you can install Linux on your Chromebook to extend its lifespan. Otherwise, users whose machines are still in fine working order just have to hope that the end of life notification never comes.